Gunadala Mary Matha Church is one of the most popular churches and is a pilgrimage for Christians in Andhra Pradesh. The shrine is situated in Gunadala, a hilly region at Vijayawada. The holy place is also called as the Mary Matha Shrine and is more popularly known as St Mary's Church. 

 View of Gunadala Hill (inset) Idol of Mary

The church has the rare distinction of having an iron cross set up on the hill top. It houses a museum that has a collection of ancient holy relics and precious gifts from followers. The shrine is filled with people on Sundays and on other important festivals and occasions. The annual feast for Our Lady of Lourdes is celebrated with pomp and gaiety. Lakhs of people come from all over India to worship Mother Mary. From February 9 to 11, when the Gunadala Matha Festival is celebrated, more than 5 lakh people come to visit the shrine. Steps are the only way to reach the church.

 

Mother Mary is said to have appeared on this hill on February 11, 1858. In 1925, Rf. Arlati, the rector of St. Joseph's Orphanage at Gunadala, installed a statue of Mary and later a church was built and consecrated in 1971. Since then the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes became an annual event here and is attended by hundreds of people. An annual feast is observed to celebrate this event with much fanfare. 

 

The museum inside the church is another attraction, with collection of valuable gifts from devotees and holy relics. 

 

During the Gunadala Matha Festival, makeshift photo studios do brisk business. For just Rs 20, one could get photographed along with their favourite ‘film stars’ or the latest model car, courtesy of lively cutouts as backdrop. 

 

For the three-day festival, the shrine authorities and the police expect huge rush, which starts to thicken a few days before the festival actually begins. Accordingly, arrangements are made to see to it that pilgrims can worship without any hassle.

 

The bishop of Vijayawada diocese inaugurates the Gunadala Matha Fast on February 9 and the holy mass begins at 6.30 am. Around 8.30 am the adoration starts. The festival ends on February 11. 

 

Officials once cited that 60 per cent of the crowd during the festival comprised Catholics and the remaining 40 per cent were people who were either Hindus or Muslims.